By far the most important celebration for the Greeks and known to be one of the richest in folklore, the celebration of Orthodox Easter (Pascha) is unique all over Greece. Throughout the country, Easter customs become a herald of the spirit’s and nature’s rebirth, while Easter celebrations constitute a vivid aspect of the folk culture, rich in meaning and symbolism.
‘To Vagion’ or Palm Sunday precedes Holy Week and commemorates Jesus Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. After the liturgy, pieces of palm leaves that have been braided and tied into crosses are handed out to all those in attendance. These crosses take their place in the Iconostasio when they get home. Palm Sunday is day of fasting from meats and dairy products. Traditionally, fish are eaten.
Throughout Greece, Good Friday is known as the day of mourning, the day of the culmination of the passion of Christ with the deposition from the cross and Christ’s burial. Women and children go to church to decorate the Epitaph (Bier of Christ) with flowers, while in the evening the Epitaph procession takes place, where the symbolic coffin is taken out of the church and carried through the streets by the believers.
On Holy Saturday morning, bay leaves are scattered over the church floor, symbolizing the glory and victory of Christ over death. When the clock strikes 12 at night, the locals gather and hurl firecrackers at the central Square or church of each town/village to celebrate the Resurrection and welcome in Easter Sunday. The candles people carry have all been lit from one inside the church, the “Holy Flame”. It is said that if you make it home without your candle going out, good luck is yours for the next year. The Good Saturday Dinner takes place after midnight and consists of the traditional Magiritsa (soup made with the intestine of the lamb), tsoureki and red-dyed eggs.
Easter Sunday is a holiday that is spent with family, relatives and friends. On Sunday morning, mainly in Greek countryside, lamb is prepared on the spit and people eat and dance usually until late at night. The Easter meal is truly a feast with loads of salads, meat and rice dishes, breads, cakes, cookies, and plenty of wines and ouzo.
Easter is by far the holiest of Greek holidays, but it is also the most joyful, a celebration of spring, of rebirth in its literal as well as figurative sense. Greeks celebrate life to its fullest and Easter is a very good example of that.